Rudy Giuliani Isn’t the Only Shady Lawyer in the Trump-Ukraine Scandal
Meet Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, tied to almost every foreigner in the impeachment saga, including an indicted oligarch
For the past few months, Rudy Giuliani has chewed up screen time and headlines at a rate he hasn’t seen in nearly two decades. With every development surrounding President Trump’s unprecedented efforts to strong-arm Ukraine, there’s Giuliani, keening on cable news, pushing outlandish claims about Joe Biden’s supposed corruption in Ukraine, pumping out conspiracies and butt-dials alike. Indeed, no American this side of Trump has played such a central role in the unfurling impeachment saga as Giuliani.
But Giuliani’s not the lone American spearheading the smears against Biden. He’s had help from Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a husband-and-wife lawyer team directly connected to every other major player in Trump’s impending impeachment, including a man the United States previously described as an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.” And like Giuliani, they have avoided registering any of their recent foreign work with the Justice Department. Understanding their role—and their spiraling relationships with all the other major players on both sides of the Atlantic involved in the ongoing impeachment revelations—may well be the key to getting a handle on how we ended up here in the first place.
Toensing and diGenova first gained notoriety during the Clinton administration, when the former federal prosecutors became sought-after commentators during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At the time, the pair were regular fixtures on cable news, speaking out against Bill Clinton, and were even at the center of a retracted story about the Secret Service supposedly witnessing “compromising” actions between Clinton and Lewinsky. The couple’s legal work picked up, ranging from representing a former congressman who reportedly demanded campaign contributions from foreign lobbyists to helping lead probes into illegal fundraising on behalf of Democrats.
Just trying to keep track of their multiple roles is enough to induce a migraine.
While their public presence waned following the denouement of Clinton’s impeachment, it didn’t take long for the pair to resurface, as with so much other flotsam, during the Trump presidency. Not only were the pair in discussions to join Trump’s legal team during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but they’ve also become some of Trump’s most vociferous defenders. Unsurprisingly, conspiracies have followed close behind, many of which have come ladled with heavy doses of anti-Semitism. For instance, Toensing’s Twitter feed is saturated with claims that George Soros has tried to meddle in everything from the State Department to Virginia elections, with diGenova even claiming that Soros somehow controls the FBI overseas. Neither Toensing nor diGenova responded to a request for comment.
But it’s their work in Ukraine that has thrust the couple, much like Giuliani, to a relevance they haven’t seen in years. As new evidence and reporting over the previous few weeks have illustrated, Toensing and diGenova have stood firmly astride Giuliani at the center of a nexus of crooked Ukrainian politicians, former Ukrainian oligarchs, and post-Soviet bagmen racing from country to country trying to scrounge up any and all dirt they can unearth on Biden, all while pushing a hoax purporting that Russia wasn’t behind the 2016 U.S. election hacking.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s the couple’s role as the new legal team representing Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch as steeped in questionable post-Soviet financing as anyone this side of Vladimir Putin. Per both the DOJ and statements from Bill Taylor, currently the United States’ highest-ranking diplomat in Ukraine, Firtash maintained deep links to leading figures in Russian organized crime. Indicted in 2013 by U.S. officials as part of a multimillion-dollar scheme to allegedly bribe Indian officials, Firtash has weltered in Vienna for five years, fighting extradition attempts to the United States. Firtash has denied involvement in organized crime and paying bribes.
Enter Toensing and diGenova. Earlier this summer, Firtash decided to swap his previous legal team for them at the behest of Giuliani and Lev Parnas, one of Giuliani’s erstwhile Ukraine associates since charged with campaign finance violations, according to Parnas’ lawyer.
That hiring, in hindsight, appears critical to understanding both the central role Firtash — despite his unconvincing claims otherwise — has played in the anti-Biden campaign, as well as how the assorted players rounding out the cast of impeachment-related characters know one another. As we now know, Toensing and diGenova hired the since-indicted Parnas as a supposed “translator” for Firtash, allowing Parnas, as he later said, to become the “best-paid interpreter in the world.” Firtash — who has publicly admitted to loathing Biden — told the New York Times he has already paid the duo $1.2 million. Soon after they were retained, Toensing and diGenova also managed to get a face-to-face meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in which they reportedly argued against the Firtash charges.
In addition to their representing one of the most notorious oligarchs out of Ukraine, Toensing and diGenova happen to represent one of the most maligned self-proclaimed journalists involved in the entire impeachment affair. John Solomon, who helped launder assorted claims from a number of suspect former Ukrainian officials through his columns at The Hill — pieces that are now under official review — has used Toensing and diGenova as his lawyers “for a very long time,” as diGenova recently revealed. Solomon, naturally, failed to disclose this relationship in any of his numerous media appearances alongside Toensing or diGenova — or even when he wrote about the couple. For good measure, Solomon even sent his pieces to Toensing and diGenova prior to publication, a clear contravention of basic journalistic ethics.
But Toensing’s and diGenova’s links in Ukraine don’t end with Firtash or Solomon or Parnas, and their roles at the heart of the impeachment allegations aren’t limited to backdoor conversations with officials and journalists. Just trying to keep track of their multiple roles is enough to induce a migraine.
As the New York Times and Washington Post both reported, Toensing and diGenova were recently in discussion alongside Giuliani to work with Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the former Ukrainian prosecutors claiming supposed Biden-related corruption, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice to help with asset recovery. The proposed retainers were reportedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In April, Toensing signed a draft retainer agreement, inked on her firm’s letterhead, saying that she and diGenova would represent Lutsenko. She also signed a separate proposal for Viktor Shokin — the former Ukrainian prosecutor everyone from Washington to Brussels to the IMF believed was impeding anti-corruption investigations — in order to help him unearth evidence of Biden’s malfeasance.
A spokesperson for Toensing and diGenova told the Times that the business proposals weren’t accepted and the duo didn’t receive a dime. But even the dubious lesser-known figures in the impeachment saga seem to have connections to Toensing: Andriy Telizhenko, a low-level former Ukrainian official spinning wild tales of supposed Ukrainian interference, landed a meeting with Giuliani — organized by none other than Toensing.
As with Giuliani, there’s one big question hanging over their actions: Why haven’t they registered with the Justice Department for their work on behalf of Firtash or regarding any of the other prospective Ukranian clients?
Toensing and diGenova don’t have a single filing in the Foreign Agents Registration Act’s public database since early 2018 (when they were representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party), according to public records reviewed by GEN. The Justice Department declined to comment on Toensing’s and diGenova’s registration status.
Toensing and diGenova have claimed that their work on behalf of Firtash is covered by the legal exemption in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). (Violating FARA is a federal crime.) A spokesperson for their law firm told the Washington Post in October that “their representation of Firtash falls under a part of the foreign agents law that specifically exempts legal services from the registration requirement.”
Giuliani, likewise, told GEN via text message that their work — just like his — fits firmly within the legal cover for not registering with FARA.
“FARA has a very clear exception for a lawyer representing a person in a proceeding,” Giuliani wrote. “That would certainly include [the] Firtash extradition. His prior lawyer really did PR and that’s why he registered.”
But FARA experts have previously said that that the legal exemption remains largely restricted to work within the confines of a courtroom and does not cover activities like cable news appearances, sit-down meetings with the attorney general, or email communications with journalists like Solomon.
The meeting with Barr, for instance, “is clearly outside the scope of legal proceedings and obviously not something happening in a courtroom — they’re explicitly doing it to persuade agency personnel,” Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative for the Center for International Policy, told GEN. The pieces Solomon sent to Toensing and diGenova, meanwhile, were “designed to influence public opinion in the U.S., and if they’re part of something intended to influence public opinion, that would also qualify for something to register under FARA.”
Likewise, Firtash’s previous legal team made years of meticulous FARA filings regarding its work for Firtash, listing everything from payment structures to outreach to U.S. journalists, according to public records reviewed by GEN. “Just go ahead and register — don’t be an idiot,” Freeman added. “I just don’t understand why people take this risk.”
As the impeachment inquiry hurtles past the investigative stage, we still don’t know everything that these two conspiracy-theorists-cum-lawyers have been up to, who they’ve been talking to, or who they’ve been meeting with. Like Giuliani, Toensing and diGenova have turned up at every major inflection point of the impeachment scandal, attached firmly to all the major names we’ve learned about over the past few months. But unlike Giuliani, they’ve escaped the headlines and much of the media glare, allowing them to continue working on behalf of one of Ukraine’s sketchiest oligarchs and to continue threading all the characters, charlatans, and crooks drenching the impeachment saga currently racing through Washington.